On Saturday renters from North East London gathered outside high street letting agents on Upper Street, Islington to demand an end to rip off fees, spiraling rents and exploitation of private tenants.
Local campaign groups from Tower Hamlets, Islington and Hackney staged a series of fun, theatrical actions outside letting agents Foxtons, Savills and Faron Sutaria. It marked the launch of the ‘Let Down’ campaign led by ‘London Renters’, a coalition of private tenant groups.
They invited members of the public to play a game of ‘Housing Crisis Monopoly’ to highlight the negative impact of letting agents on the current housing crisis and the vulnerable position of tenants.
Campaigners called for:
An end to fees for tenants, as in Scotland
Proper regulation of letting agents
No discrimination against people on housing benefit
Action to bring rents down, and keep them under control
Longer secure tenancies
Londoners dressed as letting agents and Monopoly characters invited the public to play ‘Housing Crisis Chance’ and compete for an East London flat.
The action was led by London Renters’ own dastardly letting agent, played expertly by Danny Coakley, a member of Tower Hamlets Renters.
The public gathered on the streets to watch the actions and shared their own bad experiences with letting agents.
Raj Singh, a private tenant who came along to the event, said: “When I arrived at today’s action I realised just how wide the problem of letting agents in London is. A few days ago I’d have assumed that a private tenant who gets evicted has done something wrong but speaking to people today I realise people get evicted all the time for no reason.”
There were also actions against letting agents happening in Brixton, Haringey and Herne Hill as part of the ‘Let Down’ campaign. All actions were organised by London Renters, a growing movement of people affected by the unregulated private rented sector. To find out more about these actions, click here.
Most high street letting agents will charge new tenants fees of between £100 and £500 for services such as reference checks, conducting an inventory or general ‘admin’ fees. It is thought the actual cost of a tenant reference check is between £5-£20.
After moving in, many private tenants will also find themselves hit with fees of around £100-£300 to renew their tenancy agreement or check out of their property.
In Scotland, letting agents fees are illegal. Last autumn the law was tightened to crack down on agents charging tenants fees unlawfully.
Campaigners are calling for an end to discrimination against people on housing benefit. In 2012, researchers in Hackney found that less than 1% of private rented properties were available to people on housing benefit – either because they were unaffordable or because letting agents and landlords refused to let to housing benefit tenants.
Letting agents also have a significant role to play in the steep escalation of private rents. Shelter found that a fifth of landlords had increased their rents because letting agents had encouraged them to.
Meanwhile the opulence of high street letting agents such as Foxtons knows no bounds. Their fleets of branded minis and glimmering shop fronts with designer interiors leaves us more than slightly suspicious about what these “admin fees” are really being spent on. In Brixton and Islington on Saturday, branches of Foxtons thought nothing of splashing out on private security guards to man the doors in anticipation of our peaceful protests.
London Renters: We are a coalition of private tenants groups as including –
Tower Hamlets Renters: http://towerhamletsrenters.org/
Haringey Housing Action Group: http://haringeyhousingaction.org.uk/
Islington Private Tenants: http://islingtonprivatetenants.org.uk/